How Do Robots Work

Wondering how do robots work? Different types of robots operate in different ways, but all robots share similarities in terms of design and operation.

What makes a robot?
At their core, robots are made of a few basic parts: a base or body, drive engines to move mechanical parts, servos that also move mechanical parts, sensors to provide input to the robot and a microprocessor to serve as the robot brain. While each component may vary from robot to robot depending on the robot's purpose and application, all robots contain these elements in some form or another.

The brain gets input from sensors.
In a robot that is automated to complete the same simple task over and over again, such as industrial robots, sensors may be at a minimum. However, most robots are designed to take information from the environment and perform a task based on that information. These robots need sensors in order to gather said information.

For example, some robots might be programmed to go around obstacles. In order for a robot to do that, the robot must be able to determine whether or not an obstacle is present. A sensor can tell the robot that an obstacle is there, and then the robot's programming takes over.

The programming tells the microprocessor what to do.
While the robot's construction plays a huge role in how the robot operates, the programming is the key to how robots work. A robot is only so much junk without programming. Programming tells a robot how to interpret data that it receives from the sensors and what to do about it.

In the example of a robot programmed to avoid obstacles, the programming would first need to tell the robot that, when a sensor returns X piece of data, that represents an obstacle. Then, the programming would have to tell the robot how to go around the obstacle. It might tell the robot something like "turn five degrees and check data again." If the sensor indicates that the obstacle is still present, the robot would continue to turn. If the sensor indicates that the obstacle is no longer present, it could proceed with the next instruction in its program, which may be something like "move forward."

Future robots might have sophisticated sensors and the ability to analyze data in unpredictable ways, but today's robots aren't quite that advanced.

The robot's mechanical bits do what the brain says.
The programming enables the microprocessor to decide what messages to send to the body. The microprocessor then passes along those messages and tells the body how to behave. For example, the obstacle-avoiding robot might need to turn one gear 20 degrees and the other gear 15 degrees in order to turn its base.

The microprocessor tells the body what adjustments to make in order to act out the robot's instructions. The individual gears and drive motors obey the commands, and the robot moves. The microprocessor is constantly evaluating data it receives from its sensors and sending new commands to its body in order to complete its programming.

No matter what the robot does or how complicated it is, any robot will rely on the same parts. The robot will need sensors to gather data, the programming will determine what to do with that data and the microprocessor will tell the motors and other parts of the body how to respond.

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